California: Healthcare Workers Threaten Christmas Eve Strike Over Covid-19 Negligence

By Serran Soledad

Nurses and other healthcare professionals at Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, California are among three Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) facilities whose workers have given their respective employers until Christmas Eve to meet a contract agreement for better work conditions, or face a 10-day unfair labor practice strike.

Negotiations between the three facilities and the SEIU Local 121RN representing the workers have been ongoing, as a result of poor working conditions in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a press release the Local lists, among many grievances, “Dangerous employer-manufactured staffing shortages throughout the hospitals (ongoing before the pandemic), continued aggressive rationing of PPE; used, dirty PPE, insufficient testing of both patients and staff, and reliance on an often inaccurate, inexpensive COVID-19 test instead of the recommended standard.”

The Local represents 730 nurses and 120 other healthcare workers employed by the Los Robles Regional Medical Center alone.

 “Recently, two support staff tested positive and a third who’d been working alongside them was also quarantined. I told management that I was within six feet of one of the positive employees who wasn’t wearing a mask at the time, and yet the hospital didn’t test me. There was another recent exposure in Labor and Delivery, but none of the colleagues who’d worked with that employee were tested. My son’s teachers are tested every week. It just doesn’t make sense that we don’t have a vigorous testing program here,” Kami Miller, a nurse at Los Robles, stated in the press release.

“This is a scary time to be on staff at this hospital. They were completely unprepared to protect staff. I’ve worked here for 6.5 years and I’ve never been fit-tested for an N95 [mask]. Every other hospital I’ve worked at fit-tested us every year, just like getting a TB test,” said Julia Geran, an Occupational Therapist at Los Robles. “And they never test us for Covid—even if we’ve been exposed. I have friends in the entertainment industry who automatically get tested twice a week, but we don’t get tested, even if we ask.”

Basic conditions to maintain the health and safety of workers and patients have been neglected causing a number of Covid-19 cases believed to have been contracted in hospital. Two SEIU Local 121RN members have already died from the novel virus.

As hospitals struggle through the pandemic, HCA’s 2nd financial quarter experienced a 38 percent increase in profits from the previous year (with an annual profit of $51 billion in 2019). HCA Healthcare is the largest for-profit hospital system in the Country, owning and operating 186 hospitals and approximately 2,000 sites of care throughout the US and United Kingdom.

Though negotiations between the three hospitals and the union are ongoing, HCA management has yet to engage in any negotiation on proposals put forward by workers themselves.

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